‘Adopt a Platoon’ Still Thrives After 10 Years
By Jamie Findlater
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 28, 2008 Ida Hagg knows all about care packages; in fact, after 10 years of sending them out, she's pretty much an expert.
"The troops appreciate beef jerky, sunflower seeds, movies, DVDs,” she said. “In the outlying areas, they appreciate receiving baby wipes and socks and hygiene products -- and all this is topped off with tons of cookies."
Hagg first realized the importance of care packages when her own son was deployed to the Balkans, she explained during an “ASY Live” BlogTalkRadio interview. The online radio program is an extension of the Defense Department’s America Supports You program, which connects citizens and companies with servicemembers and their families serving at home or abroad.
"In every letter he would send, he would talk about how nine out of 10 of his buddies did not receive regular mail," Hagg said.
Since 1998, her organization, “Adopt a Platoon,” has been sending out thousands of care packages to let U.S. troops know they care. In fact, she said, the group sends out about 30,000 pieces of mail and care packages a month.
"It is my experience," Hagg said, "that Americans want to support the troops, but unless they have a deployed servicemember -- a spouse or a son or daughter in the military -- … they don’t know how. … For this reason, we rely greatly on our ‘platoon moms and dads.’"
The group also works closely with combat hospitals and gets word from chaplains who tell them what items the troops need the most.
One of Adopt a Platoon’s current projects, "Operation Don't Bug Me," stemmed from one of these requests. The group sends mosquito repellent during the summer months. Other operations range from supplying soldiers with sunglasses, to seasonal moral boosters such as "Operation Holiday Stocking" and even a special campaign called "Operation Underwear."
"Only American mothers truly care and understand the most important needs that you wouldn't normally think about," she said.
The group’s “Operation Crayon” started in 1999 in the Balkans to help out with humanitarian missions in Bosnia and in Kosovo. Today, it serves areas in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Now, while our troops help with reconstruction efforts, we can provide the writing tablets and supplies for the schools," Hagg said.
A teacher by trade, Hagg said she understands that it is important to get everyone in the community involved.
"We rally fellow Americans, our neighbors and our community to stand behind our troops,” she said. “We encourage people to submit an application, and we follow through with personal phone calls. We work to involve teachers and their students, families, business, civic groups."
Everyone can get involved as much or as little as they like, she said.
"A classroom in a senior high school wants to write letters, but can't afford the care packages,” she said, “so we form a partnership with them."
Though trying to determine what items will truly give troops that extra push is a full-time job, Hagg said, it’s worth the effort. She said troops appreciate cards and letters the most. “They just need to know that we're thinking about them all the time,” she explained.
The success of the organization over the past decade is proof that America values its servicemembers, Hagg said.
"I had no idea in 1998 that we would be as big as we are today,” she said. “It just goes to show that our American people want our support our deployed sons and daughters."
(Jamie Findlater, host of “ASY Live” on BlogTalkRadio.com, works in the New Media branch of American Forces Information Service.)